It would be hard to miss Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World whether you are a film fan or not. Not only did the project garner awards buzz before being released, the production of the film fell under a dark cloud following the the sexual harassment allegations against its original leading man, Kevin Spacey. Since those allegations surfaced, Scott put on his super filmmaker cape, re-cast Spacey’s role as John Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer and reshot all his key scenes in nine days in order to meet the release date.
The story focuses on the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to convince his billionaire grandfather (Christopher Plummer) to pay the ransom. When Getty Sr. refuses, Gail attempts to sway him as her son’s captors become increasingly volatile and brutal. With her son’s life in the balance, Gail and Getty’s advisor (Mark Wahlberg) become unlikely allies in the race against time that ultimately reveal the true and lasting value of love over money.
We were lucky enough to speak with acclaimed Director/Producer Ridley Scott about the film and the tremendous lightning speed at which he turned the outcome of the film around as well getting a hint at the future of the Alien: Covenant sequel.
John Paul Getty is an intriguing character and his refusal to pay kidnappers for the release of his grandson seems unfathomable to any normal person. Inspired by true events, this is one project that Scott didn’t have a hand in writing and he told us why he jumped at the chance to get involved.
“I get targeted for things most of the time. Years ago you had to make your own material, if you wait you never get it or it’ll be two years with gaps, you can’t have that. So I develop everything but occasionally one will land. The last one to land with me, for example, was American Gangster. Someone said read this; I read it and thought ‘Wow!’ So this came in, same thing. ‘Read this you’ll like it.’ The next thing I met the man who owns it, Dan Friedkin. We pitched it to Sony saying we’re going to make this now, and because I am with the investor it was a lot easier. Purely fortuitous, I think [All The Money in the World] is one of the better screenplays I’ve read in a number of years actually.
“I loved the way the writer moved the story around rather than having a straightforward narrative. I loved how it jumped backwards and forwards, I thought it was very interesting. It enables you to get into every quadrant of the story; you’re seeing the Mafia, seeing how the boy is taken. Seeing how the mother has to deal with the [Italian] mafia and has to deal with Getty. It’s a very full engine, its great.”
It’s never straightforward to adapt a real-life story for the big screen; some elements have to be exaggerated or made up for entertainment value to make it more compelling for audiences. Scott revealed he remained respectful of the existing Getty Family members when making the film and certain elements had to be given the green light.
“I knew everything because I was very much at art school in London at that particular point. I was very much into Rock n Roll, so when this came about it was very much part in the media. A man such as John Paul Getty, who was famous at that particular point by being the only known billionaire, therefore he was special by definition of wealth. Today there are thousands of billionaires so it’s less important I guess. Getty was important in that he then, as a billionaire, refused to pay the ransom. This was absolute fodder for the press who went nuts, I think both Italian and global press went crazy. It was fascinating because it felt very newsworthy, almost contemporary.
“[The Getty Family Members] said “Thank Christ it’s a good movie”, which I thought was quite funny. She said ‘No it’s a very good movie, but the old boy was a little bit more user-friendly than that.’ At that point, she had seen Kevin Spacey. I think Christopher would fulfil her comment more so by the fact that he is more sympathetic because of his twinkle and his smile. Inside there still beats a heart of stone I think. He is inordinately sophisticated and sensible. For him to say I’m not paying up, is not him actually saying that he knows he is talking to the mafia. When he says that to the press, he knows, either one way or the other that information will get to the mafia so he is already beginning the process of negotiation.”
For any other filmmaker, taking the decision to recast and reshoot all of Spacey’s key scenes in time for the release would be virtually impossible. However, for a veteran filmmaker like Scott, who had already encountered a similar situation, albeit under different circumstances, with Gladiator when Oliver Reed died.
“You know what, for me, I am so practised. The big deal was actually making the decision. I don’t pontificate. I decide, let’s go. I said it will cost this, I can deliver on time, do you want to go ahead with it? That had to be a conversation with my partner, Dan Friedkin, who actually brought the script to me. I said shall we do it and he said let’s go. I said I’m going in after Christopher Plummer, I think we can get him but we’ve got to move as we’ll be shooting in nine days.”
It’s no secret that Scott originally wanted Christopher Plummer in the role as John Paul Getty and although, in such a limited amount of time, he was lucky that Plummer’s schedule was clear and he finally managed to persuade his man to replace the disgraced Spacey and the film is all the better for it. Scott revealed Plummer’s secret in being able to get to grips with the character so quickly.
“Christopher does a lot of theatre, so he has a very good memory [even at 87] for remembering all those words. Therefore, being a famous theatre actor as well it helped him remember [the script]. It is challenging to remember all those lines in a short space of time but it helped he was a theatre actor.”
With most ‘based on true story’ pictures, certain elements of the film are created for entertainment to be more compelling for audiences. The same applies here with the relationship between Gail – Getty Jnr’s mother — and Chase — the ex-secret serviceman hired by Getty Sr to investigate the kidnapping. It almost feels like it’s going to develop into something more but never quite gets there.
“That was well spotted; I knew someone would think that. Whether that actually happened in real life, who knows, I don’t know but they did spend a lot of time together.”
Having written last year’s Blade Runner 2049, Scott comes into All The Money in the World without that creative input with the story being adapted from John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. Scott revealed, for him, he has one process for all his ventures and he takes it in his stride every time no matter what the project.
“There is no given, it’s all different every time. The big trick is to get it on paper if you can get it on paper, write it as your engine. It’s your blueprint for what you’re about to spend. Therefore, making the movie itself, in my experience and time, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s also enjoyable if I have a screenplay [to work with] as opposed to a very thin screenplay which you have to constantly have to allow for. Bad screenplays are terrible to work with; it’s really hard. You’d be amazed at how often people start films with a screenplay that isn’t complete yet.”
With the recent acquisition by Disney to take over a number of Fox assets, the future of Scott’s Alien: Covenant sequel (which was one of the Fox assets Disney acquired) is uncertain at this point. However, Scott revealed to us that the project is still being processed but is unsure of what the wider plan is. The filmmaker, however, doesn’t seem too anxious.
“I think we are in the process right now, the fact that the Disney deal is going through so whether that will affect it or not I don’t really know. I would think not because I think part of the reason for Disney taking over that part of Fox is probably to give them another avenue to explore. They’ve got themselves so well designed in terms of their targets and audiences targets and demographics of age groups that maybe they want to step across into a darker side of things. I don’t know. I don’t know what the plan is really”.
All The Money in the World is in UK cinemas now. Our review is glowing, and it is here.